How to Make and Use Ghee, the Versatile Fat Used in South Asian Cooking That Deserves a Place in Your Pantry
Similar to clarified butter, ghee is a cooking fat that's made from either butter or cream; it separates the water and other components present in dairy from the fat. "Ghee is golden-yellow in color and carries a nutty caramel aroma," says Nik Sharma, an award-winning food writer and cookbook author who also has a graduate degree in molecular biology. "At cool temperatures, it solidifies into an opaque solid. When warm, it transforms into a liquid."
The ingredient is commonly used in South Asian cooking, and can be used as a butter substitute in a variety of different dishes.
What Is Ghee?
Ghee is 100% butterfat and is, of course, derived from butter. Sharma explains that it's prepared by completely separating the fat from the water, milk solids, and sugars found in butter. What's left is fat-soluble components like amino acids, proteins, and fat-soluble vitamins. "It's more concentrated than butter since the milk solids have been removed," says Kyle Thygesen, director of dairy operations at Vital Farms, a producer of ghee.
Store-bought ghee is typically found in the international or oil and fat section of most grocery stores.
How to Make Ghee
While you can find ghee at the supermarket, it can also be made at home by cooking butter slowly over very low heat until it melts. "The water begins to separate from the fat and milk solids as [the butter] cooks," Sharma says. "Once the water is completely gone, the milk solids will settle to the bottom." You can either stop once the milk solids have settled or continue cooking the butter until the dairy pieces turn a light reddish brown, which will give your ghee a rich caramel flavor.
After the dairy components have separated, let the mixture cool slightly. "Once that's done, strain the molten ghee through cheesecloth and store it in clean and dry jars," Sharma says.
How to Use Ghee
Anyone can cook with ghee, but Sharma says it's particularly ideal for people who avoid lactose, which is removed during the preparation process. And because ghee has a high smoke point—485° Fahrenheit—Thygesen says it's a useful alternative to butter, olive oil, and avocado oil.
It's especially great for high-heat cooking, like frying and roasting, adds Sharma, because it contains proteins that form a non-stick surface on metal pans like cast iron (so food won't stick as easily). "Ghee is used like any other cooking fat and finds applications in both savory and sweet preparations, like tadkas for dals and curries, cooking spices and aromatics, and making sweets like gulab jamuns," he says.
When Not to Use Ghee as a Butter Substitute
While ghee is commonly used similarly to butter, they aren't always interchangeable. In recipes like cakes and other baked desserts, you need to adjust the ratios of the ingredients because, unlike butter, ghee lacks water and is a more concentrated form of fat, explains Sharma. "If too much ghee is used, the cake crumb can easily turn greasy," he says. "If too little is used, the cake will be dry."
You can, however, spread a pat of ghee over baked goods, like scones and pastries, as you would butter. Sharma notes that dishes that are served cold, like a salad, are not best suited for ghee, since it solidifies and congeals at cold temperatures.
How to Store Ghee
"Ghee is shelf stable, so it doesn't require refrigeration," says Thygesen. He recommends keeping it at room temperature, but away from sunlight. "Keeping your ghee on your counter or in the cabinet will make it easier to scoop or squeeze," he says.
When stored in a cool, dark place and left unopened, ghee will last for about nine months. "An opened jar can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year or around three months on your countertop," Thygesen says.